by Jonathan Bisby
The Labour Party Conference was back in Brighton for their 2019 event. But this was not a usual political setting. And as the Supreme Court hearing on the Tuesday ruled that parliament had been suspended unlawfully, the conference atmosphere seemed focused on matters elsewhere.
But even in this environment, the party was able to explicitly set out some of its key policy agenda and health received a great deal of traction from figures within the shadow cabinet. Even before I arrived at the conference, the Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth had already announced that a Labour government would scrap prescription charges for patients in England, like they already are in Wales and Scotland. As a member of the Prescription Charges Coalition, a group of nearly 40 health organisations, the RPS has long called for an end to these charges and is something that we would welcome. Leader Jeremy Corbyn used his closing speech to outline his ambition to introduce a state-owned drug company to provide cheaper, generic medicines for the NHS, citing the cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi as a prime example of medicines being too expensive for the NHS to fund. The RPS is now awaiting further details on how this would potentially work in the future.
As expected, a lot of the events that I attended focused on the challenges to healthcare posed by Brexit. The Shadow Health Secretary, like many other MPs, repeatedly emphasised how a no deal Brexit would leave the UK significant medicine and staffing shortages. Workforce was also a theme across the conference, specifically analysing government funding and the implementation of the NHS Long-Term Plan. At a Fringe on “Wearables, WiFi and Workforce: Is the NHS fit for the future?”, I was delighted to hear from panel members highlighting their concerns to MPs regarding current healthcare conditions, such as why a lack of basic digital capabilities in patient records across sectors may tamper with future NHS development. This is a key topic for the RPS at the moment and we will continue to engage with stakeholders about what new technology could mean for pharmacy.
The high-profile policy proposal made by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell of a National Care Service, which would provide free care to all over-65s meant there was also many events on social care. At an event titled “Is now the time for a Nye Bevan moment in social care?”, which the panel included Julie Cooper MP, Shadow Minister for Health and an officer on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pharmacy, questions were raised regarding staff recruitment in new roles across new NHS systems. It was a great pleasure to introduce myself on behalf of the RPS and speak to MPs about the important role pharmacists play in supporting patient health by preventing and detecting conditions, as well as publicise recent RPS campaigns on a variety of topics, such as our recent diabetes and cardiovascular disease reports. With the ever-growing possibility of a general election in the coming months, we’ll continue to talk to MPs about what they will do to help support and raise the profile of the profession.